Roth Surname Meaning, History & Origin

Select Roth Meaning
The Roth surname is Germanic in
origin. The most likely explanation of
the name is that it derived from the German rot
meaning “red” and was perhaps at first a nickname for someone with
hair. However, there have been many explanations.
Roth is also Jewish. It first appeared as
an ornamental name in the 18th century
Ashkenazi refugees were arriving in Germany from the Balkans and

Roth Resources on

Roth Ancestry

The Rote spelling first
appeared in Germany in the 12th century.
Roth appeared as a place-name in Bavaria and the
Rhineland-Palatinate. Roth as a surname
seems to have had its origins
in Bavaria. One family from Wunsiedel
in NE Bavaria dates from the early 1500’s.
Roth was a Jesuit missionary who grew up in Augsburg in south Bavaria
in the

The name spread across Germany’s southern borders into Switzerland,
Austria, and Hungary. The legend of Hans
Roth of Rumisberg
in the Swiss canton of Bern dates back to
1382. Johannes Roth was a Burgomeister at
Basel in
1444. The Rott name was recorded among
Swiss Anabaptists in the 1530’s; while Hans Roth was preaching at
Kitzbuhel in
Austria at that time.

The Roth numbers
today are approximately:

  • 70,000 in Germany (with the largest numbers in
  • 5,000 in Switzerland
  • 3,000 in Austria
  • and 1,000 in Hungary.

Roth arrivals in the
were mainly from these four countries.
Some also came from what was then the Russian

England. There were a few
instances of Roth being a native English name.
But most Roths in England, mostly found in London, have come
Germanic immigrants. Mathias Roth who arrived in the 1840’s
as a Hungarian refugee became a well-known London medical practitioner.

America. Many early Roths from
Germany who came to
Pennsylvania changed their name to the more anglicized Rhoads or Rhodes:

  • Johann Rodt, for instance, arrived in
    Philadelphia from Wurttemberg with his wife and three sons in 1717. They settled in what became Berks
    county. The family spelling here was
    sometimes Roth, but subsequently became Rhoads.
  • Heinrich Roth arrived from the
    German Palatinate in t737 and later
    settled as Henry Rhoads in Frederick county, Maryland.
  • while Anthony Roth, also
    from Wurttemberg, came in 1752 and settled in York county, Pennsylvania. His children were Rhodes.

Another Roth-to-Rhoads change occurred later
after Reuben Roth who had fought in the Civil War with the 176th
Infantry Regiment. His son A.J. Roth
headed west and changed his name to Rhoads.

Roth family in Pennsylvania who remained Roth (except for a son Peter)
was the
descendant line from Daniel Roth who had arrived from Switzerland in
1733 and
settled in Lehigh, Pennsylvania. Christian Roth migrated with his
to Ohio as a young boy in 1821.

Roth was a Mennonite minister from Baden in Germany.
He never made it to America. But
his widow Veronica and children did in
1837, settling in Illinois. Son Daniel served as the minister of the Pleasant Grove Mennonite
church at Tremont, Illinois; grandson Roy pastor of the Pleasant Hill
church at
East Peoria, Illinois. Joseph Roth, also
from Baden, came with his family in 1840, settling in Albany, New York. His son Henry worked on the railroads there.

William Roth had been born
in Hawaii in 1880, the son of an Austrian immigrant.
He married the heiress Lurlene Matson in 1913
and then joined the Matson shipping business.
He built up a fleet of luxury liners that helped spur mass
Waikiki. His son William was to
on in the family business.

Jewish Roths came later. Among noteworthy arrivals were:

  • Emery Roth from Austria-Hungary in 1884, aged
    13. He designed many of the distinctive
    New York hotels and apartment buildings of the 1920’s and 1930’s.
  • and Henry Roth
    also from Austria-Hungary
    in 1908, aged just two. Educated in New
    York, he became a writer, but with a writer’s block that lasted over
    fifty years.

Al Roth, the bridge player
from the Bronx, and Philip Roth, the writer from Newark, were the sons
immigrant parents.

Adam Roth from Baden in
Germany arrived in
Sydney with his family in 1857. After
working initially as a cooper, he bought land in the Mudgee district
established a winery on his Rothview property.
The winery stayed with the Roth family until 1969.

Holocaust survivor
Henry Roth arrived in Australia in 1947 and made a foray into the
industry, establishing the London Fashion
outlet. He sold the chain after twenty years and invested in commercial
properties. These were inherited by his
sons John and Stanley when Roth died in 2000.
The Roths are now amongst the richest families in Australia.


Roth Miscellany

Roth Surname Explanations.  There have been a number of explanations of where the Roth surname originated.  The following are seven of them:

  • the spilling of red blood – derived from rot meaning
    “red” – from the warrior class of an ancient Germanic soldier
  • an
    ethnic name for an Anglo-Saxon, deriving also from rot, as
    were often red-haired.
  • a name relating
    to the red color of clay in pottery
  • a
    topographical name, derived from rod meaning “wood”,
    referencing someone who lived in or by a wood.
  • a derivative from the Germanic hroth meaning
  • a derivative
    from roe in the ancient Danish language to signify
  • and an ornamental name for 18th century
    Jewish Ashkenazi refugees to Germany.

Hans Roth of Rumisberg.  Hans Roth was a peasant
farmer from Rumisberg in the Swiss canton of Bern who happened to be at the Gasthof Schlüssel in Wiedlisbach one
November night in 1382 and eavesdropped on a plan by Count Rudolf von
Kyburg to
attack the town of Solothurn.

What should
he do?  He did not think of going home.  He wanted to go the twelve miles to Solothurn
and warn the citizens there.  But how?  In the freshly fallen snow, the count’s men would
recognize his tracks
as soon as he came out of the inn.  He
decided to take off his wooden slippers and tie them upside down to his
feet so
that it looked as if someone was coming from Solothurn instead of vice

Having arrived at the gates of Solothurn,
Roth broke his promise not to “tell any living soul of the
attack.”  He did not speak to
anyone.  He spoke to the stony St. Urs
statue instead.  But the nearby
gatekeeper heard him and sounded the alarm. As the Kyburg approached Solothurn, they
discovered that the town was already alerted and prepared for them.

The brave peasant Hans Roth of Rumisberg came as a
consequence to high
honor. As gratitude the town made him a dress in red and white.  He also received an Ehrensold of 94 talers.  And
in each subsequent year the eldest of his
descendants has received this Ehrensold. 

US Roths by Origin and Roths in Thes Countries Today.  The table below shows:

  • the share of Roth arrivals in the US by country
    of origin (from ship-tracking records)
  • and
    the share of Roths in these countries today
US Arrivals ‘000’s Today
Germany   2,217    69%     70    89%
Hungary     442    14%      1     1%
Switzerland     364    11%      5     6%
Austria     163     6%      3     4%
Total   3,176     79

Germany predominates, even more today.

Mathias Roth in London.  Lajos Kossuth, the Hungarian revolutionary, had asked
Mathias Roth who had moved to England in the 1840’s to be his envoy in
Britain.  But Kossuth was in power for
barely a year before he was forced to flee his country.
Roth meanwhile stayed in Britain for the rest
of his life.

A disciple in Hungary of Ling’s Swedish kinetic
treatments, he was in London a well-known orthopaedic
surgeon and homeopath with a
practice at Wimpole Street.  He
championed the improvements in medical health in his adopted country.

“Roth pointed out that the neglect of physical
education and hygiene within the English education system was the
cause in the decline in the general health of the nation.
His vociferous arguments heralded the
addition of medical health and social welfare to factors shaping
in physical education.”

The influence of
Ling was evident in the naming of two of his children:

  • Felix Ling Roth was a ship’s engineer who traded for
    tortoise shells and other exotic items up and down the
    Queensland Coast and around New Guinea.  He
    then served in the 1890’s in the medical service of the
    Niger Coast
    Protectorate in West Africa.
  • while Henry Ling Roth went to Australia in 1878 and
    stayed for a time in Queensland.  He spent more than a decade on
    anthropology studies there before returning to England as a museum
    curator in Yorkshire.

Christian Roth in Ohio.  Christian Roth had been born in Northampton county,
Pennsylvania in 1813.  He was eight years
old when his family traveled by covered wagon to new lands in Ohio. His
grandfather and great grandfather had been Pennsylvania farmers.  He knew that his great grandfather had been
scalped by Indians and that his grandfather had been a Commodore in the

In 1827 his father purchased land west of
Trenton, now the village of Tuscarawa, where they built their home. Christian Roth, according to a descendant,
grew to manhood strong of build and of character.  A
man of high morals, he was a respected
citizen in his community.  He purchased
the home farm which grew to 184 acres of well-cultivated land. He
farmed and
raised stock for many years and lived there until his death of dropsy
at the
age of seventy six.

Henry Roth and His Writer’s Block.  Henry Roth was born in Galicia in what was then the
Austro-Hungarian empire in 1906 and came with his parents to New York
two years
later.  Educated at City College, he
wrote his first novel Call It Sleep,
an evocation of his childhood in New York, in 1934.
While it is today regarded as a masterpiece
of Jewish American literature, it came out at the time to mixed reviews.

After the book’s publication, Roth did begin
work on a second novel.  But his growing
ideological frustration and personal confusion created a profound
block that lasted more than fifty years.
Roth attributed his writer’s block to personal problems such as
depression, and to political conflicts, including his disillusion with
Communism and his break with Judaism.

With the onset of World War Two, Roth
became a tool and gauge maker.  He moved
in 1946 to Maine.  There he worked as a
woodsman, a
schoolteacher, a psychiatric attendant in the state mental hospital, a
waterfowl farmer, and a Latin and math tutor.

Roth did not initially welcome the success of the 1964 reprint of Call It Sleep, valuing his privacy instead.  However,
his writing block slowly began to
break, particularly after his move to Albuquerque.
He ended up producing his late-life
autobiographical epic Mercy of a Rude
in 1994, one year before his death.

We learn from this book one additional
reason why Roth had been paralyzed as a writer.
He dared not write about the overwhelming fact of his
adolescence, his
incestuous relationships with his sister and cousin.


Roth Names

  • Mathias Roth was a well-known
    homeopathic medical practitioner in London in the mid-19th century. 
  • Al Roth was an American bridge player, considered one
    of the greatest of all time. 
  • Henry Roth, from Jewish roots, was a 20th century American novelist with a writer’s block. 
  • Philip Roth, also from Jewish roots, is an American novelist,
    one of the most awarded writers of his generation

Select Roth Numbers Today

  • 28,000 in America (most numerous in California)
  • 3,000 elsewhere (most numerous in UK)


Select Roth and Like Surnames 

The first wave of German immigration into America came in the early 1700’s from the Rhine Palatine and Switzerland.  They were fleeing religious persecution at home.  Most ended up in Pennsylvania, bringing their Mennonite church with them.  Some went to the Mohawk Valley in upstate New York.  Their Germanic names often changed under English rule to English-style names.  Thus Fischer became Fisher, Schneider Snyder, Hubner Hoover and so forth.

The reasons for immigration were different in the 19th century – in search of a better life, sometimes to avoid the draft.  They came from all German states and went not just to Pennsylvania but all over as the middle and west of the country was opening up.  And they brought German skills with them, notably beer-making.

Here are some of the notable German surnames in America that you can check out.



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